Spring training is for the old and the old at heart, for folks who like things the way they were. The rich men in plaid sport coats who used to own baseball teams understood this. Today a go-go crowd runs the pastime, and the short season is changing fast. For now, you can still play shuffleboard at Dodgertown, in Vero Beach, Fla., the baseball oasis where the Dodgers have been camping for 50 years. Who knows about tomorrow.
In Florida, where the state bird is the early bird, four teams have moved to new digs, new complexes, this year. There's also an expansion team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, making its debut in the Grapefruit League. On top of that the Chicago White Sox this year have departed Sarasota, Fla., for Tucson, winter home of their owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. In other news from the Cactus League, the Milwaukee Brewers have vacated their old house in Chandler, Ariz., for a newer and shinier facility, and another expansion team, the Arizona Diamondbacks, has joined the fold. With all the moves this spring the Lords, wandering the deserts in search of better leases, have made it obvious that even preseason baseball is about revenue streams. See that cluster of nice ladies on the first base side, holding up team umbrellas to protect themselves from the midday sun? PROFIT CENTER.
Out with the old, that's baseball's new motto. For the past 17 years the Atlanta Braves and the Montreal Expos shared a pleasant little ballpark called Municipal Stadium, in an actual city, West Palm Beach, Fla. To be candid, nobody confused the park for paradise. The water pressure in the visiting clubhouse was NOT EXCELLENT. Contiguous to the stadium there were NO GOLF COURSES. Some neighborhoods near the stadium were POPULATED BY POOR PEOPLE. This year, the Expos went tony, moving 12 miles up the road to Jupiter, where Burt Reynolds lives part time. The Braves went mass-market, off to Disney World, where Goofy lives full time.
By the end of last week all players were supposed to be at their workstations—if they could find them. Old baseball fans were similarly disoriented. On U.S. 1 in South Florida and on Country Club Road in Tucson there were pilgrims in rental cars, fighting the creases of their maps and muttering, "Got to be around here somewhere."
The owners' assumption, of course, is that the fans of spring, those codgers with nothing better to do, will always find their way to the park, wherever it is. The map of spring training is not sacred, but it is familiar. Change it too much, and you alienate some of the game's most ardent fans. They're too polite to revolt. Instead, they'll just disappear, stuck forever on a suburban traffic circle somewhere, unable to find their exit.